Some Healthful and Practical Writing Advice

by James Scott Bell

We here at TKZ care about writers—how they write, of course, but also how they can stay healthy. Today I bring you some venerable wisdom on both counts.

First, on health:

Over at Project Gutenberg I happened upon the definitive treatment of the healthy side of coffee, published in London in 1721, with the snappy title of The Virtue and Use of Coffee With Regard to the Plague, And Other Infectious Distempers. We all know coffee gives you a lift in the morning, among other benefits. But until I read this little book, I had no idea of the number of infirmities a daily cup of joe can overcome. To wit:

[Coffee] cures Consumptions, Swooning Fits, and the Rickets; and it helps Digestion, rarefies the Blood, suppresses Vapours, gives Life and Gayety to the Spirits, prevents Sleepiness after eating, provokes Urine and the Catamena.

It contracts the Bowels, and confirms the Tone of the Parts, being drank after Victuals, provided it be fresh made; for if it stands but two or three Hours, it loseth much of its Virtue. … It is an effectual Remedy against Worms in Children; so that if the Mother drinks frequently of it when she is With Child, the Infant will not be troubled with Worms, during its first Years.

’Tis likewise useful to such as are afflicted with Rheumatick or Gouty Humours. The Dutch Physicians commend the Use of it in Intermitting Fevers, and hold it to be good against Infection; because of the great Refreshment it gives the nobler Parts of the Body, and its sudden Effect upon the Spirits, which are wonderfully recreated by it. And it is apparently the Opinion of all Physicians who have yet wrote concerning the Plague, That such Bodies whose Spirits are the most overcome by Fear, are the most subject to receive Infections. And again, That the Spirits must be refresh’d only by such Liquors, or Preparations, as will not promote Inflammations. And of this nature, say they, is Coffee, which by a right Use supports the vital Flame, and defends the Body from Pestilential Infection. And as such it is generally recommended, as a necessary Drink, at least twice a day; the first thing in a Morning, and at four in the Afternoon.

Got that? Drink coffee first thing in the morning and at four in the afternoon, and your kids won’t get worms.

Now, about writing. Louisa May Alcott wrote this letter sometime in 1878:

I can only say to you as I do to the many young writers who ask for advice—There is no easy road to successful authorship; it has to be earned by long & patient labor, many disappointments, uncertainties & trials. Success is often a lucky accident, coming to those who may not deserve it, while others who do have to wait & hope till they have earned it. This is the best sort & the most enduring.

I worked for twenty years poorly paid, little known, & quite without any ambition but to eke out a living, as I chose to support myself & began to do it at sixteen. This long drill was of use, & when I wrote Hospital Sketches by the beds of my soldier boys in the shape of letters home I had no idea that I was taking the first step toward what is called fame. It nearly cost my life but I discovered the secret of winning the ear & touching the heart of the public by simply telling the comic & pathetic incidents of life.

Little Women was written when I was ill, & to prove that I could not write books for girls. The publisher thought it flat, so did I, & neither hoped much for or from it. We found out our mistake, & since then, though I do not enjoy writing “moral tales” for the young, I do it because it pays well.

But the success I value most was making my dear mother happy in her last years & taking care of my family. The rest soon grows wearisome & seems very poor beside the comfort of being an earthly Providence to those we love.

I hope you will win this joy at least, & think you will, for you seem to have got on well so far, & the stories are better than many sent me. I like the short one best. Lively tales of home-life or children go well, & the Youth’s Companion is a good paying paper. I do not like Loring as he is neither honest nor polite. I have had dealings with him & know. Try Roberts Brothers, 299 Washington St. They are very kind & just & if the book suits will give it a fair chance. With best wishes for a prosperous & happy New Year I am your friend



What is your beverage of choice when you write?

Where are you on the “long & patient labor, many disappointments, uncertainties & trials” road that we call the writing life?

What part of writing brings you the most joy?

Foods That Jumpstart Your Creative Heart

It is Memorial Day weekend. I hope that you each and all have a safe and happy one. The weather in my neck of the woods is a bit cool for May, which has spoiled at least one picnic which I know of and no doubt will ruin several others. I don’t do picnics, which makes me a Memorial Day grinch of sorts. My wife, who is a closet germophobic, sees nothing inconsistent between her need to have GermX, wet wipes, and Puffs Plus within arms reach at all times, and her ability to eat potato salad that has sat out for hours in eighty degree weather on a picnic table that a Canadian goose nestled to its nether-regions but a few hours before. Different strokes. For me, the closest I get to a picnic is lunch on a French Quarter balcony. The emphasis on food, however, got me thinking about foods which inspire. Some time ago at this spot I wrote about what beverages aided the creative process. Coffee occupied six of the first five spots on my list. But foods? What foods feed the creative muse?

For me, it’s apples and bananas and peanut butter: fruit cut into sections, with peanut butter — Planter’s smooth, if you would be so kind — dolloped onto each piece. Three pieces of each, no more, no less. It’s a jump starter, and I don’t know why, I don’t even recall when I first acquired the habit. But it works. How goes with it with you? Are there any foods, or combination thereof, which jumpstart your inspiration? Or does fasting starvation do the trick? Either way, enjoy the weekend and the holiday.

Writers and Coffee

James Scott Bell

What do you brew to do what you do?

For most writers through the centuries, it’s been the coffee bean, the seed of the genus coffea. Nothing like a good cup of joe in the morning to get the mind rolling, the fingers pounding and the mind coming up with stuff to happen in the scene you’re working on.
Perhaps the greatest exponent of the jamoke treatment was Honoré de Balzac. He believed its properties were magical, and proved his devotion by writing over 100 novels, novellas and stories on what was, essentially, speed.
His practice was to wake up around midnight and have his servants cook up the thickest coffee imaginable. Think tar with a little sugar. He’d down brew after brew, for up to fifteen hours, letting the stimulant feed his imagination.
He died of caffeine poisoning at the age of 51.
In more moderate quantities, coffee has proved to be universal in its appeal since its discovery in the fifteenth century. According to the definitive treatise All About Coffee (William H. Ukers, 1922):
All nations do it homage. It has become recognized as a human necessity. It is no longer a luxury or an indulgence; it is a corollary of human energy and human efficiency. People love coffee because of its two-fold effect—the pleasurable sensation and the increased efficiency it produces.
Coffee has an important place in the rational diet of all the civilized peoples of earth. It is a democratic beverage. Not only is it the drink of fashionable society, but it is also a favorite beverage of the men and women who do the world’s work, whether they toil with brain or brawn. It has been acclaimed “the most grateful lubricant known to the human machine,” and “the most delightful taste in all nature.”
Personally, I have found coffee to be as Kipling found a good cigar: Thought in the early morning, solace in time of woes.
And a companion for every novel I’ve ever written.

So do you have any coffee rituals, favorite blends, or go-to coffee joints? If you don’t you have a speciality brew, you should look at websites like Little Coffee Place for some inspiration.
And if the coffee bean is not your thing, what is your drink of choice for doing time at the keyboard?